Tag Archives: United Nations

Jew of the Week: Diane von Fürstenberg

Diane von Fürstenberg    (Credit: Ed Kavishe)

Diane Simone Michelle Halfin (b. 1946) was born in Belgium, the daughter of a Moldavian-Jewish immigrant father and a Greek-Jewish mother who survived the Holocaust. She was born just 18 months after her mother was liberated from Auschwitz. Halfin studied economics at Madrid University and the University of Geneva. During this time, she met Prince Egon of the German aristocratic house of Fürstenberg. The couple soon married and had two children: Prince Alexander and Princess Tatiana. The now-Princess Diane did not want to be a trophy wife, and “decided to have a career. I wanted to be someone of my own, and not just a plain little girl who got married beyond her desserts.” She followed her passion into fashion design and apprenticed at a textile factory in Italy. It was here that she first came up with her idea of the “jersey dress”. Unfortunately, the Prince and Princess separated (a major reason being the disapproval of the Prince’s family of a Jewish bride), and Diane became a full-time fashion designer in New York. She started her business with a $30,000 loan from her father. In 1974, she finally introduced her jersey “wrap dress”. It took the world by storm, and over 5 million dresses were sold in just one year. Von Fürstenberg expanded into cosmetics and fragrances, and was soon among New York’s most successful fashion designers and businesspeople. After moving to Paris in 1985 to open a publishing house and a European cosmetics line, she returned to New York in 1997 to re-launch her American business. The jersey dress returned to immense popularity. In 2004, von Fürstenberg launched new collections of jewellery and beachwear. A couple of years later, she was made President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, a position she still holds. She is one of the most popular designers among celebrities, and her dresses have been worn by the likes of Kate Middleton, Michelle Obama, Madonna, and Jennifer Lopez. Von Fürstenberg is also a noted philanthropist (together with her current husband Barry Diller), having donated millions to a wide array of causes including public housing, education, human rights, health, and the environment. Every year, she presents a $50,000 “DVF Award” at the United Nations building to each of five women “who display leadership, strength, and courage”. She is on the board of Vital Voices, an organization that assists women around the world, particularly in the area of economic empowerment. In 2014, she gave $12 million to help restore the crumbling historic Jewish ghetto of Venice (the oldest in the world). Von Fürstenberg also had her own reality TV show (House of DVF) that ran for two seasons, and has written two popular books. She still presides over 111 DVF stores around the world. She was recently ranked by Forbes among the world’s most powerful women, and in the TIME 100 list of iconic figures.

Words of the Week

One feels the beauty of the world only according to the measure of beauty that is in the inner core of one’s soul.
– Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

Jew of the Week: Ruth Dreifuss

President of Switzerland

Ruth Dreifuss (Photo Credit: Chatham House)

Ruth Dreifuss (Photo Credit: Chatham House)

Ruth Dreifuss (b. 1940) was born in Switzerland to a Jewish family that had been living in the country for many generations. She studied commerce and social work, and later earned a Master’s in economics from the University of Geneva. Dreifuss worked as a hotel secretary, journalist, and social worker before joining Switzerland’s Socialist Party. Throughout the 1970s, she worked for the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the 80s, she was the general-secretary of the Swiss Trade Union (the first woman to hold that position), and by 1993, was elected as an executive member of the Swiss Federal Council, the country’s official head of government. The council is made up of seven officials who collectively run the federal government, with each taking a turn as president for one year. Dreifuss’ turn as president came in 1999, making her the first female (and Jewish) president of Switzerland. This was a tremendous achievement, especially because Switzerland was the last country in Europe to grant equal rights to both women and Jews. During her tenure, she brought forth many improvements to Switzerland, including revisions of the country’s health insurance and social security systems. She helped make Switzerland a full member of the United Nations, implemented paid maternity leave, enhanced the country’s policies on pensions and drugs, introduced programs for prevention of HIV and drug addiction, and helped Holocaust victims retrieve their money from old Swiss bank accounts. After serving two and a half terms, the popular Dreifuss resigned from the federal council in 2002. Since then, she has chaired the World Health Organization’s Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation, and Public Health, and is also an important member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an organization composed of former female politicians and heads of state working to improve women’s rights globally. Dreifuss continues to play an important role within the European Union, and has been awarded honourary degrees from both Haifa University and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University for her tireless work in social justice, gender equality, and combating anti-Semitism.

Words of the Week

If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.
– Albert Einstein